Fans of Game of Thrones were taken aback when the final episodes of the season aired. Despite all the evidence of the first few seasons that whatever fantasy ending you assumed was coming would be turned on its head, viewers couldn't believe the expected ending of Daenerys on the throne and Jon Snow' parentage mattering was all just a red herring. They were stunned Arya killed the Night King, and even more confused when Bran became ruler of the Six Kingdoms. Everyone asked the same question: Does Bran become king in A Song of Ice and Fire as well? Or was this the showrunners changing the ending?
It was a fair question. Though no one knows for sure, during the Inside the Episode segment for Season 8 Episode 3, "The Long Night" showrunner David Benioff talked about the decision to have Arya kill the Night King as if this was a choice made by the show, and not necessarily the outcome in the novels. "For, god, I think it’s probably three years now, we’ve known that it was going to be Arya who delivers that fatal blow."
That meant the choice was made around Season 5 or 6, two years after Benioff and his partner D.B. Weiss sat down with author George R.R. Martin to outline the two still unfinished novels of the series. Fans took this as evidence whatever happens in A Song of Ice and Fire, Arya will not be the one taking down the leader of the White Walkers.
But what about Bran? With no Inside the Episode or Game Revealed segments for the series finale, there was nothing from the showrunners to confirm or deny if this was from the books still to come, or from their own devising. Fortunately, actor Isaac Hempstead Wright, who plays Bran, was more forthcoming in an interview with HBO's Making Game of Thrones.
After reading the ending, Hempstead Wright said he had to get up and walk around, he was so shocked by the outcome. But then he talked to the showrunners about it and was assured this was not some practical joke they were trying to pull.
[Creators] David [Benioff] and Dan [Weiss] told me there were two things [author] George R.R. Martin had planned for Bran, and that was the Hodor revelation, and that he would be king. So that’s pretty special to be directly involved in something that is part of George’s vision. It was a really nice way to wrap it up.
For those who were hoping against hope that the show had just gone off the rails, this is probably disappointing news. But for those who have read the books carefully, the Stark-centric ending, with the first glimmers of democracy actually felt like it was keeping within the themes laid out from the very first novel, A Game of Thrones.
Moreover, having the books to flesh out these scenes, and help build towards Bran's kingly turn in subtext and subplots may result in an ending that feels more organic on the page than it did on screen. Hopefully, The Winds of Winter will come soon so fans can find out.